Document 122917

What is Nitrogen?
Human Alteration of the
Global Nitrogen Cycle
Nitrogen is the most abundant element in
the Earth’s atmosphere.
Nitrogen makes up 78% of the troposphere.
Nitrogen cannot be absorbed directly by
the plants and animals until it is converted
into compounds they can use. This process
is called the Nitrogen Cycle.
Heather McGraw, Mandy Williams, Suzanne Heinzel, and Cristen Whorl, Give
SIUE Permission to Put Our Presentation on E-reserve at Lovejoy Library.
How does the nitrogen cycle
The Nitrogen Cycle
Step 1- Nitrogen Fixation- Special bacteria convert the
nitrogen gas (N2 ) to ammonia (NH3) which the plants can use.
Step 2- Nitrification- Nitrification is the process which
converts the ammonia into nitrite ions which the plants can
take in as nutrients.
Step 3- Ammonification- After all of the living organisms
have used the nitrogen, decomposer bacteria convert the
nitrogen-rich waste compounds into simpler ones.
Step 4- Denitrification- Denitrification is the final step in
which other bacteria convert the simple nitrogen compounds
back into nitrogen gas (N2 ), which is then released back into
the atmosphere to begin the cycle again.
How does human intervention
affect the nitrogen cycle?
Nitric Oxide (NO) is released into the atmosphere when any type
of fuel is burned. This includes byproducts of internal combustion
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is released into the atmosphere through
bacteria in livestock waste and commercial fertilizers applied to
the soil.
Removing nitrogen from the Earth’s crust and soil when we mine
nitrogen-rich mineral deposits.
Discharge of municipal sewage adds nitrogen compounds to
aquatic ecosystems which disrupts the ecosystem and kills fish.
Production and Use of
Nitrogen Fertilizers
Nitrogen Fertilizer
#1 Contributor to new nitrogen in the
global cycle
First developed during WWI
Use has grown exponentially
Can actually increase the nitrogen so much
that soil fertility actually decreases
The Need for Nitrogen
Nitrogen as Fertilizer
Nitrogen is found naturally in manures and other
organic fertilizers
Nitrogen is a key nutrient for plant growth
Four forms of nitrogen are used as fertilizer:
Problems with Nitrogen Fertilizers
Ammonia can escape into the air
Ammonium clings to organic matter in the soil
Rainfall after the application of any nitrogen
fertilizer causes leaching of nitrate and other
nutrients from the soil
Plants lacking sufficient nitrogen become
yellow and stunted, with
smaller than average
flowers and fruits
Without nitrogen fertilizers,
an estimated one-third of our current
agricultural production would be lost.
How Nitrogen Fertilizers Works
Urea is broken down by enzymes in the soil to
become ammonia
Ammonia is broken down into ammonium
through mineralization
Ammonium is broken down into nitrite and then
nitrate through nitrification
Nitrate is used by plants
Because of the potential loss, farmers
typically add more than twice the needed
amount of nitrogen fertilizer to the soil
This excess nitrate pollutes the
drinking water supply and vastly
changes the nitrogen cycle
Fossil Fuel Burning
The burning of fossil fuels releases previously
fixed nitrogen from long-term storage back to the
atmosphere in the form of nitrogen-based gases
such as nitric oxide.
Power Generation Plants
By-Products of Internal
Combustion Engines
The emissions of motor vehicles
contributes to more than 1/3 of
the nitrogen released into the
atmosphere- World Bank
To reduce NOx emissions:
Internal Combustion Engines
Nitrogen oxides are formed in the
combustion process by oxidation of
nitrogen (from the atmosphere and fuel) to
NO and NO2
NOx Emission Control
Prevent formation in the cylinder
Remove from exhaust gases in an after-treatment
Most effective: introduction of water/steam because
it cuts the temperature peaks in the combustion
„ water-in-fuel emulsions
„ humidification of the combustion air
„ direct water injection into the combustion space
Subject of extensive development work by the
gas turbine manufacturers during the 1980s
Allowable NOx levels in dense cities are only
10 ppm by volume
Acid Rain
Depositions of sulfur and nitrogen
Transport acid aerosols formed in the
atmosphere from a mixture of
hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acid
Infiltrates soils, groundwater, rivers, and
What does all this mean?
Power Generation Plants
Impacts on the Atmosphere
Nitrous oxide contributes to overall
greenhouse warming.
Deplete and thin the ozone layer.
Formation of photochemical (brown) smog.
Acid rain.
We are greatly increasing the amount of nitrogen
cycling between the living world and the soil, water
and atmosphere.
We have already doubled the rate of nitrogen
entering the land-based nitrogen-cycle.
This is having a serious impact on ecosystems
around the world.
These additions can pollute ecosystems and alter
ecological functioning and the living communities
that they support.
Effects on the Ecosystem
Nitrogen saturation
Acidification of the soil
Increase in tree deaths
Reduction in overall species diversity
Loss of biodiversity
Acidification of lakes and streams
Eutrophication in estuaries and coastal waters
For Further Information
Public Affairs Office
Ecological Society of America
This information was largely reproduced from the
“Human Alteration of the Global Nitrogen Cycle: Causes
And Consequences,” published by the Ecological Society of
America, in the journal Ecological Applications
(Volume 7, August 1997) with detailed citations to the
original scientific literature.